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Thien Lieng’s Story

Voices of Highland: Thien Lieng

Thien shared this testimony of her journey as an immigrant during the Welcoming the Stranger class on Sunday, April 15:

Thien Lieng (2nd from right) and family

It was February of 1991. My family that included my mom and dad, 2 brothers, sister, and uncle arrived in the US. It was the first time we truly felt what winter was.  We are from Vietnam, the southern part in the mountains where it is typically high 70s lows 80s throughout the entire year.  Any temperature in the 60s is considered extremely cold.  Many people assume we are Vietnamese, but we are actually Montagnards. We are people indigenous to the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

The term Montagnard means “people of the mountain”. We lived a simple life – we were farmers, growing crops and raising livestock.  However, even after the war ended, there was still tension between the Vietnamese and Montagnard people. The Montagnard people never felt safe, as we all knew and even witnessed the killings of innocent family members just because we were Montagnard.

We were blessed to have the chance to come to America to start a new life.  This was possible through The American Homecoming Act that was implemented in 1989. This act allowed children in Vietnam born of US fathers and their immediate relatives to receive refugee benefits. My uncle was adopted by my grandparents and he is the child of an American solider during the Vietnam War. When we were accepted, our family was thrilled to come to America, as it was known to be the place where you were able to fulfill your dreams.

Our destination was Raleigh because my father had siblings living there.  Highland was the church where our two sponsor couples attended. The sponsors were Pat & Don Langdon and Tom and Paula Dilley.  They were incredible people who did everything they could to make sure we got settled in and adjusted to our new life.  It was Highland that helped us find out first home.  Even though water would come in when it rained, my childhood was filled with great memories of meeting new friends and learning English. I remember when Mr. Langdon gave my dad a cream colored Buick so he could travel to work.  He was so proud to own his very own vehicle and I don’t think I have seen anyone wash and wax a car as much as he did.

The hardest struggle was speaking English.  As kids, we picked it up a lot quicker but the church helped find ESL classes for my parents to attend. They never got to really enjoy being students in Vietnam because their life in Vietnam was filled with taking care of the family and farmlands.  So ESL classes were a way for them to learn English skills that would allow them to be hired for certain jobs and gave them the ability to communicate with their fellow co-workers.  Five years later, Habitat for Humanity was able to build us a new home in Cary.  We have been in America for 27 years and my parents have lived in that Cary home for over 20 years now. Even though there is a Methodist Church less than a mile away from the Cary house, we never attended that church because Highland has always been like our second home.

Currently, my extended family has created a Montagnard church where my cousin is the pastor.  Even so, you will likely see my family attend this church on Sundays. I can’t say that it is only a church, rather it is a community that allows people to grow together spiritually through good acts such as being a sponsor for immigrants such as my family. These days all of the kids have grown up and we are all married and my oldest siblings have kids of their own. Regardless of the fact that we have grown up and progressed so much in our life, we continue to come back to Highland. It’s hard to explain the loyalty we feel towards Highland. I think it comes from a deep feeling of gratitude for what this church community has been able to see my family through. Without Highland, my family would have had a difficult time getting our footing in America.

The pure and enduring kindness of all the members of Highland made all the difference then and continues to make all the difference today. You have always been there when we needed guidance; and even to this day, Highland is home.  That is why it is so important for Highland to continue its mission in helping refugees and immigrants abroad and those that are already here.  I am certain that these deserving people may need help with finding a job, finding an affordable home, learning English, signing up for healthcare, and daily things we take for granted. It can’t be understated how much it means to someone who is new to this country what a difference a smiling face and a helping hand can make, and the lasting impact that it leaves on someone’s life.  It worries me that they aren’t being given the opportunity to have sponsors who are able to help. The best way to welcome anyone would be to introduce yourself and offer a phone number or method of communication. It’s the little things we do for people that make the biggest difference. Overall, my family was blessed to have such a strong church community and sponsors to help us get to where we are today. And that blessing continues as we meet new church members and gain friendship and wisdom from one another. I hope the church continues its mission in helping refugees and immigrants so that they may understand the blessing this church can provide.

-Thien Lieng and her husband Kevin McCarron attend the 8:30 AM Worship Service with Thien’s parents, Uck Cil and Thet Lieng